One of the Others – Pt. I

I don’t just believe in diversity, I’ve folded into my life’s mission. I read books about the feminist movement just for fun. I celebrate multiple religions. I challenge my friends when they say things like dude, that’s so gay. I joined an organization that works to eliminate sexual violence against all people. I am in an inter-racial marriage, and have a biracial son. In fact, every aspect of my life is dedicated to fostering all things diversity –acceptance, inclusivity, social justice, the usual suspects.

So it pains me to admit, that I have prejudices. Yes, those wart-like ideals that colors even the purest souls the most putrid shade of gray, who vies to distinguish between themselves and everyone else: She’s not like us, she’s one of them. There is us ______ people, and there is everyone else. Those people. Their kind. The Others.

I admit, I have prejudices (and I intentionally use a present tense knowing no one is ever truly free from the actions of their prejudiced past) because doing so has not only helped me become less judgmental and more self-aware, but it has also helped me evolve. More than that, admitting my prejudices has liberated me. Though one Monday morning, it didn’t feel so freeing.

I stood in front of the classroom quivering, like a puppy sitting on its owner’s doorsteps, shivering in the rain. I could feel their eyes on me, as they awaited instructions. I scanned the students’ names in the attendance book for the fifth time, and checked my cell phone – 7:56 am. Class did not officially begin until eight o’clock, but it was time to start. So I put a smile on my face, looked up, and greeted my students.

“Good morning…Hi Professor Staten…How was your weekend,” the students responded all at once. Brian had already downed a can of Monster. Kayla was already copying the day’s outline (which I wrote on board before each class). And, Colleen and Lauren were their usually perky selves. My students were ready to go. Now all I had to do was teach.

I always spent those few minutes before class officially began making small talk with my students – our chats ranged from who studied all weekend to who worked all weekend, from which professors they liked most to which movies they’d recently seen. It was my way of investing in my students and taking an interest in their lives. It was also my way of facilitating an informal ice-breaker and getting them warmed up.

“Where do prejudices come from,” I asked, unsure if the weight of the question would squash the laughter and exuberance that’d filled the room only moments ago. But I knew it was time to make the transformation – I had to turn off the chitchat as their BFF, and turn on my role as a take-no-nonsense professor, so we could begin the day’s lesson. Exploring prejudices wouldn’t be an easy feat, and hurt feelings were merely collateral damage.

“Racist people,” Brian called out. He was always the first to respond, and I wondered if he’d have the stamina to keep up with me today.

“Ignorance,” Colleen added. She was the type of student every instructor wishes they had more of – punctual, engaged, hard working, intelligent, a world of potential, and a sweet disposition underneath a tough exterior. Of all my students, she was probably my favorite.

When I noticed there were no other hands in the air, I asked the question again: “Where do prejudices come from?”

I could tell my students were thinking – Devon was twirling her hair between her fingers. Mike had taken a break from doodling, and was spinning his pen between his fingers. Jade was biting her lip, focused, as if she was repeating the question to herself – Where do prejudices come? Where do prejudices come from?

“Fear,” Lauren finally said. Her response had sounded more like a question than an affirmation, and that drove me nuts. But at least she had contributed, and that’s all I could ask for.

(Intrigued by what you’ve read thus far? If so, drop me a line!)

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